If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that we’re never going back to the way things were. Everything about the way we live and work has changed. What already felt like a rapid transition of our lives onto tech platforms became much more accelerated once the coronavirus forced many of us to stay home. The problem is that we humans don’t evolve as rapidly as our technology. Before the pandemic, we were all familiar with the ways our technology can fuel stress and burnout. And now we can add “virtual fatigue” to that list.
Video conferencing, and Zoom in particular, has been an incredible lifeline, allowing businesses to keep going and making it possible for us to stay connected to friends, family and co-workers as our in-person relationships and interactions migrated, almost overnight, online. In our new normal, Zoom has become the new office. The experience blazed into the zeitgeist, entered the lexicon and became a verb, Google-style: we don’t just hold Zoom meetings, we Zoom. At the end of 2019, the platform was the host to 10 million daily meeting participants. By just the end of April, that figure surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants.
What this new norm has made clear is that we need to also create new rituals and practices within Zoom meetings to prevent virtual fatigue, bringing more humanity to the technology and creating an experience more finely tuned with what allows us to perform at our best. Like any new tech tool, it’s about how we use it. How many of us, this year, have spent our days mired in boundaryless permawork in the form of back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings, feeling drained and depleted and not exactly connected to the people we’re Zooming with?
That’s why Thrive has teamed up with Zoom to launch the Thrive Reset Zoom App, an in-meeting app that helps you de-stress in real time directly in the meeting — in just 60 seconds. It’s based on Thrive Reset, one of the most engaging features from our behavior change platform. And as we just announced at Zoomtopia this morning, we’re able to integrate it directly into Zoom Meetings.
Even the most frictionless video communication is no substitute for the human brain. “We’ve evolved to get meaning out of a flick of the eye. Our species has survived because we can produce those signals in a way that’s meaningful,” says Jeremy Bailenson, professor and director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. But because there can be a barrage of asynchronous cues from video conferencing, Bailenson says, “it takes a physiological toll.”
For instance, our brains are finely tuned to interpret small moments of silence that occur in the rhythms of face-to-face conversations. But those rhythms, and those small moments of silence, are different in video conversations. A study from the Technical University of Berlin found that even delays of just over a second can cause us to judge the other person negatively, perceiving them as “less attentive, extraverted and conscientious.”
And a study from U.C.L.A. found that in video conversations even close friends felt less close than when interacting in real life, because over video, they could only partially see their friend.
The stress of communicating through technology began long before video conferencing took over our work lives. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Linda Stone worked on emerging technologies at both Apple and Microsoft. In 1998, she coined the term “continuous partial attention” as a way of describing the state of always being partly tuned in to everything while never being completely tuned in to anything. That’s a great description of what a day of video meetings can feel like.
Dr. Leanne Williams is Director of Stanford’s Precision Mental Health and Wellness Center. In a white paper she co-wrote for Thrive Global, Williams identifies different biotypes to describe the ways our brains experience stress. One that will feel familiar to many who spend hours video conferencing is “cognitive fog,” when the brain “may feel foggy, rather than sharp” and we may experience “difficulty in executive thinking that relies on making decisions and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and reactions.”
As Dr. Williams and her co-authors point out, this is a natural extension of what our brains are currently being asked to do. “With the rapid changes we are experiencing, our brains are also going through rapid learning and plasticity (a kind of sudden ‘brain marathon’),” they write. “We are pushing our capacity for flexible thinking to the maximum. It is understandable our brain will get tired — just like we would feel tired if we went from minimal exercise to trying a marathon. So it’s OK to give yourself permission for your brain to rest and catch up.”
Dr. Williams told me when we get stuck in cognitive fog, this “stops us from being able to be present in the moment, to think straight and to notice positive interactions.” And so we need what she calls a “circuit break” to get going again. “You will know this circuit break is a real break… when you feel your brain circuits shift gears and you are present again.”
And that’s exactly what Thrive Reset is all about. Thrive’s behavior change platform is built on the science that shows that the best way to create new and healthier habits is by starting as small as possible. So to help people improve their well-being and their productivity, we’ve created hundreds of Microsteps, which are small science-backed steps we can incorporate into our daily lives right away.
And the Thrive Reset Zoom App brings this idea to the Zoom meeting. It’s based on neuroscience that shows that we can course-correct from stress in 60 to 90 seconds. That’s all it takes to complete a Reset. You can use it at the beginning of a meeting to start out fresh, in the middle to stay focused and present, or at the end to help you recenter before moving onto your next Zoom meeting, or the rest of your day. And it only takes 60 seconds.
Here’s how it works: when you open the Thrive Reset Zoom App from Zoom’s App Menu, you’ll see Thrive’s ready-made Reset Guides on topics like stretching, gratitude and mindfulness along with the option to create your own personalized 60-second Reset by selecting images, quotes and sounds that bring you calm and joy. You can choose images from your photo library (or Thrive’s own collection), along with quotes that give you perspective and inspire you, and music that moves you. We’ll do the rest, delivering you a personalized Reset with a guided breathing bubble that helps you inhale, exhale and bring yourself back to center.
The breathing element is important. Too often, we move breathlessly from one video meeting to another, launching into agendas, goals and next steps, rarely pausing to reconnect with our breath and ourselves. Reset prompts us to breathe — and as the science shows, breathing is a gateway to a range of benefits. Focusing on the rising and falling of our breath, even for 60 seconds, activates our parasympathetic nervous system, lowering our cortisol levels. A recent book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor, shows our breath is our superpower. “Breathing properly can allow us to live longer and healthier lives. Breathing poorly, by contrast, can exacerbate and sometimes cause a laundry list of chronic diseases: asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypertension and more.” A study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that breathing can even help us make better decisions.
Here are some images from my personalized Reset, which I built from some of my favorite family photos from when my children were young; my latest joy trigger, a photo from my oldest daughter’s wedding; Yo-Yo Ma’s “Ave Maria,” along with some of my favorite quotes.
One of my favorite parts of our Thrive Reset Zoom App is that you can share your Reset directly in the Zoom meeting. As virtual meetings have become the norm for so many companies, one of the concerns we’ve been hearing at Thrive Global from the CEOs and H.R. leaders we work with is how to nurture and maintain a sense of team culture in a distributed workforce. The personal connection we build by getting to know our co-workers in the office is invaluable for creativity, collaboration and innovation. So by sharing your Reset, and the special moments from your life that give you calm and joy, not only do you create a collective moment of Reset for all meeting participants, you also help bring a deeper sense of authenticity, intimacy and connection to your Zoom meetings.
This is undoubtedly a stressful time, and in fact we were already in a global epidemic of stress and burnout before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to make even more of our lives dependent on technology. That’s why we built Thrive’s behavior change platform: to provide users simple, easy-to-use tools that help them take small Microsteps to reduce stress and improve their well-being — and to ensure that we’re using technology to help make us more human. There’s no way for human brains to evolve as quickly as this pandemic has upended the nature of our day-to-day communication. But we can create time and space within our latest technology tools for our brains to reset. In fact, we must. Because only by doing that will we create a new normal that empowers us to work at our best with less stress, less virtual fatigue and more connection to ourselves and to our co-workers.
The Thrive Reset Zoom App will launch on Zoom later this year. If you want to bring Reset within the Thrive Global app to your company, click here to learn more about our enterprise offering.